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Dakar 2007: A really bad day for the Volkswagen Team

Between Tichit and Nema, Marc Coma strategically managed his lead in the overall rankings by driving without rushing on top of the race during the 494km of today’s special stage. But it’s amateur biker Janis Vinters, who started 21st this morning, who gave Latvia its first victory in a special stage of the rally.

In the car category, team Volkswagen has collapsed with a broken engine for overall rankings leader of this morning Giniel De Villiers, and severe electronics problems for Carlos Sainz. This is however good news for Peterhansel and Alphand, who are now - as in 2006 - the two leaders in the race and for Schlesser, who gets a second stage victory and may hope for a place in the final top 3. In the trucks category, Wulfert Van Ginkel wins for the first time in a special stage of the Dakar in front of Hans Stacey who remains steadily at the top of the overall rankings.

The gearbox defect hitting the new KTM 690 is probably somewhere at the back of the mind of leader in the bike race Marc Coma. But it certainly did not prevent him from further pursuing its triumphant march on Dakar. In this 9th stage of the raid, the Catalan spent the day alone once again. He started first, he finished first, however without making the best time: this is race management ‘a la Coma’.

The winner of this 4th Mauritanian stage has not yet been seen since the beginning of the rally. Janis Vinters, 10th in last year’s edition, surprised everyone by getting the best timing on all CPs before victoriously crossing the line 7’31’’ ahead of Cyril Despres.

Behind, Coma’s adversaries could not do anything. His challenger, Cyril Despres, who fell on km 130, had started this special stage with navigation tools malfunctioning; he had to go through the whole special manually scrolling through his road book. Hard, therefore, to catch up with the Catalan, who remains way ahead and only gave in 22’’ to the Frenchman. The gap is till 54’36’’ between the two men. As for Pal-Anders Ullevalseter, happy to be in the top 5 of the overall rankings, he just caught up with and then followed Despres till 30 km of the finish. The Norwegian finishes 4th at 7’53’’.

Giniel De Villiers was a candidate for the unofficial title of most reliable driver on the Dakar. Since he came to the Dakar in 2003, he systematically finished in very honorable places driving vehicles that were however identified as full of imperfections. More importantly, his driving - safe and sharp at the same time - his wisdom and his clear-headedness since Lisbon had put him on the right track for a deserved success in Dakar.

Stéphane Peterhansel, an expert for sure, even admitted in Tichit that "Giniel is a fabulous pilot. I think he did not have a single flat tire in the whole rally and he did not get stuck in the sand either". But he did add that "anything is possible in the Dakar". Indeed this year, De Villiers’ adventure will only have lasted 5,255 km. At km 130 of today’s special stage, the turbo of the Race Touareg Volkswagen nr 301, leader in the overall rankings, caught fire. Right in front of Elephants’ Rock. A beautiful place for a rough defeat.

Respectful of the scenery, the South-African did not play drama queen. He shook the hand of his copilot Dirk Von Zitzewitz, and it was all it took for all to understand that his hopes for victory had vanished for good. Forced to wait for this assistance team and be towed to Nema, he kissed victory goodbye with great dignity.

After the problems of Sainz yesterday, this is probably a good thing for the Mitsubishi of Peterhansel and Alphand. But one big change never comes alone. The confrontation between the reds and the blues is back on the agenda due to the joint consequences of an unfortunate time loss before CP1 for Peter - stopped because of a clutch problem for about 10 minutes - and a sudden fit of pride of the Spanish driver who drove through CP1 with the best time. But it did not last long for the former rally world champion who was also let down by technology on this day after a halt without assistance. Nr 303 got stuck 50km from CP2 because his electronics system had broken down. Neither Miller, nor Sousa, who both spent some time with Sainz, were able to find the miracle solution.

So the coast seems to be clear for the two Mitsubishi hot shots. But the events of the day have demonstrated that speculations are often proven wrong on the Dakar. All the more so that Jean-Louis Schlesser, who had the best time of the day and is now 4th in the overall ranking at 2’11’’ of Al Attiyah, is delighted to be the outsider because the race between Peterhansel and Alphand might do some damage.

In the trucks category, Wulfert Van Ginkel wins the first stage of his career in the Dakar. The Dutchman behind the wheel of a GINAF truck came out first before his countryman Hans Stacey who arrived more than 12’ behind. A gap that corresponds to the time lost by the leader in the overall rankings due to a flat tire. But Stacey’s lead is nevertheless growing in the overall rankings; he now has more than 3 hours lead over Ilgizar Mardeev, arrived 7th of the stage.

2007/01/15 | 19:24 CET | Editor: MR/EP/ASO

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